Several decades ago, a trip to the cinema involved a dusty seat, less legroom than a Ryanair flight and a carton of juice; an experience later replaced by the advent of movie multiplexes - faceless hangars that would tranquillise customers with supersized boxes of popcorn and syrupy fizzy pop.

This facelift for film worked, with audience admissions climbing from a low of 54 million in 1984 to 175.9 million in 2002, after which annual visitor numbers have hovered between 160 million and 170 million.

Though buoyed by blockbuster franchises such as Marvel, Star Wars, James Bond and Harry Potter, they have never beat that 2002 high.

Until, London's 800-seater Odeon Leicester Square emporium hopes, now. After a year-long refurbishment, the newly rebranded Odeon Luxe reopens this week, with three times the legroom of standard cinemas, luxury reclining seats at £40 a pop, a cocktail bar, gourmet food and an in-house organist. It has been fitted with an audio-visual upgrade and offers Britain's first Dolby Cinema experience, powered by more than 400 speakers and a pin-sharp high definition dual laser projector system.


"It is like nothing before in terms of comfort, service and technology," explains manager Tessa Street.

"We have reimagined everything to deliver an experience that people haven't had at any other cinema. The auditorium is perfectly set up for sound and picture. It is unbelievable. I have worked in the industry for a long time and have never seen image quality as good. It is everything you would expect from a cinema, but with a level of unrivalled luxury."

Recent years have seen a rise in well-appointed new cinemas - namely from independent groups such as Everyman, Picturehouse, Curzon and Electric - where customers can lounge on sofa seats, washing down their roasted tomato hummus and Padron peppers with chilled sauvignon blanc. Cinema, it seems, has entered a new golden age.

So it is no wonder, perhaps, that this model has spread to chains like the Odeon, too, with the Leicester Square Luxe claiming to be one of the most opulent (and one of the most expensive) cinema experiences to be had anywhere in the world.

Opened by founder Oscar Deutsch in 1937, it has hosted more than 700 film premieres, welcoming royalty of the official and Hollywood variety over the past eight decades.

In the latest update, heritage features including the famous flying ladies sculptures on the wall and the original Compton organ have been lovingly restored.

Cinepolis, La Costa, California.
Cinepolis, La Costa, California.

While the Leicester Square flagship offers Odeon's top-end experience, the business model it follows originates from the early Noughties when entrepreneur and Soho House Group chief executive Nick Jones added the Electric Cinema on Portobello Rd to his growing stable of restaurants, private members' clubs, bars and hotels.

Focusing on comfort, he slashed the capacity, replacing old seats with armchairs and sofas; a bar was installed, and popcorn banished. For the next five years, the cinema enjoyed a 90 per cent occupancy rate.


"This was a completely new thing," says Mandy Kean, director of cinema at Electric Cinemas. "It revolutionised the way people thought about cinema. We had big leather armchairs and proper food like fish and chips and spaghetti. It's not about exclusivity, it's about comfort.

"Today, people want a more personal and personable experience."

This new breed of operator realised that even with less capacity, customer staying power - and profits - could be boosted with engaging interiors, good food, drink and service.

The Electric only has 83 seats (its sister venue in Shoreditch only has 50), but it also has a diner and a members' club.

Watching in style

Rajmandir, Jaipur, India

It took a decade to build and is designed to mimic the opulence of a royal palace. The stunning lobby leads to a vast viewing hall with perfume-scented air.

Urania National Film Theatre, Budapest

With a stunning arched interior, the venue was built in the 1800s, originally as a nightclub. In 1899, it was converted into a theatre and cinema.

Cinepolis, La Costa, California

Guests can recline in leather seats and summon staff to take their food orders with the push of a button.

Reel Cinema, Dubai Mall

Boasts a platinum suite that offers personal butler service and a dine-in cinema with a signature menu created by chef Guy Fieri.

Nitehawk Cinema, Brooklyn

Menus are themed and refreshments are served to your seat table.